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FOSS4G: Free Beer and the Longevity of Data

Selina Sandoval

White_Robert Company Photo.jpg

I just returned from a week in Bonn, Germany attending the annualInternational FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial).  As always, this was a great venue for observing trends and improvements in the development of “free” software. The conference organizers are quick to point out that “free” does not mean zero cost as in a “free beer” but rather “free” in the sense of freely usable software and non-restrictive license agreements.

Healthy open source projects “grow” a community of frequently interacting developers, testers, and documenters. Individuals in the community assume roles and tasks to author frequent software releases.  Popular software developed in this manner includes everything from desktop GIS (QGIS, Grass) to databases (PostGIS on top of PostgreSQL) to various software level programing interfaces (Open Layers).  Many commercial products contain parts of FOSS4G products.

Unlike traditional commercial projects, open source projects are driven more broadly by projects requirements, funding, and community members.  There is no traditional “product roadmap” and features may spring up more haphazardly.  If there is a lot of interest in a particular functionality, it gets pushed to the front of the queue. 

FOSS4G offers workshops two days preceding the main event.  I took a workshop on the Internet of Things to learn how to collect and process real time sensor data.  The impending flood of sensor networks and data has huge implications for those of us in the natural resource industries in the United States and worldwide.  

In this workshop we connected a very low cost humidity/temperature sensor to an inexpensive Arduino interface.  We used software from the Swiss Earth Science Institute to interface the sensors, collect, and analyze the data in real time.  Using such technologies, a clever project to collect oil and gas well data could be similarly implemented.  

In contrast to prior years, there was more emphasis on GIS data.  Arnulf Cristl, a founder and charter member of OSGeo, gave an animated talk on “Software Comes and Goes. Mind the Data!”  You can watch the video here

Basically, Cristl makes the point that software needs to adapt and more fully utilize features in the data, and not the other way around.  In 100 years, data will likely be what has become permanent, and old software versions and companies long forgotten.  You should never adapt data to adjust to some vagary or fault in the software!  


Automation and the Bottom Line

Selina Sandoval

Trains, besides being a total obsession of mine, are a classic example of automation.  In the 19th century, trains shrunk the cross-country journey from weeks to days. 

Not everything associated with the innovation of trains has been good. Towns and cities were connected, but many other locales bypassed.  Some unfortunate places simply shrivelled and died. Trains also contributed to the disappearance of buffalo, until by 1894 there were only 25 animals left in the wild!   Trains also contributed to the extermination of the American Indian by providing a simplified means for extensive white settlement resulting in conflict.  

Perhaps we can all agree that innovations can bring good tidings but also a payload of unintended consequences.  We can at least agree that innovations can be quite disruptive.

Similarly, GIS technology is disruptive.  New technologies, like the ability to read a legal description and instantly draw the polygon on a map, greatly speed and reduce the cost of mapping lease, land, and right-of-way descriptions. However, such automation can also drastically change and reduce company job rolls - not to mention have a large impact on a company’s expenditures and bottom line.  On the bright side, it elevates the job description so that employees do less grunt work and focus on higher value tasks. 

Recently, a customer made a large acquisition.  Management was expecting to have to add many mapping staff to the GIS team, but in fact the GIS team lead discovered that because of the curated data from WhiteStar, in conjunction with a sophisticated Land data Management System, the company could absorb the acquisition without spending an additional $750,000 on staffing costs.  WhiteStar data includes parcel information, lots, and tracts that can greatly speed the automated mapping of land polygons, eliminating the need to research and map those ownership positions manually. 

We’re fond of our craft data.  Good maintained data drive efficiency.  We have been building a set of ROI tools so that you can see how that our data might accelerate the positive financial momentum of GIS inside your organization.  Also, our research shows how so-called “free data” can be costing your company as much as $250,000 per year.  

You can contact Adam for access to run your own numbers and scenarios. They add up quickly! 

Industry Musings: National & International Perspectives

Selina Sandoval

White_Robert Company Photo.jpg

Not unexpectedly, there was a lot of talk this year at the Esri Petroleum User Group in Houston about how to handle the downturn with the creative use of new technology. Apps dedicated to specific tasks that can be constructed quickly and easily are all the rage. Though attendance seemed to be down by about half, the remaining attendees were focused on new drilling and new opportunities, and our booth was busier than ever.  It seems fortunately that the worst is behind us. 

In early April, I also attended the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ International show in Barcelona, Spain. In contrast to the general hand wringing predominant in the United States, the international attendees seemed to focus specifically on collaboration with competitors and trying to do more with less. Notably, there were many representatives of renewable divisions of oil and gas companies  at the conference, specifically Repsol.

Another theme in Barcelona was the common practice of oil companies to hire one’s own staff and “import” them into a foreign country rather than hire and train locally to save development costs and to generate good will by building relationships in the host country. Big picture project discussions also took place such as the coordination of the various tasks required to drill a well into a more comprehensive, cohesive, and cost saving managed holistic process. 

Certainly these ideas are taking root in the United States as well, but it was nice to see them showcased in one place.  

WhiteStar is receiving many inquiries from companies examining all operating facets of their operations including the cost and maintenance of GIS data. In some instances, we can save companies as much as 80% over your legacy data license agreements. We will be reaching out to financial comptrollers in the next few weeks as it is an obvious and large cost savings where the data can be replaced with a higher quality offering.